13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Like in chapter two, James focuses on deeds once again. A wise person is going to show their wisdom in their life by the way they act. But there’s a new wrinkle added here that hasn’t been mentioned before and it’s important in our discussion of deeds.
Good deeds are to be done in humility. A humble person is one who does not expect or want attention for the deeds that they do. You probably know some humble people and you probably know some prideful people as well. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make you humble and likewise there are some very humble non-Christians. I know a man who did a lot of work for the church and contributed a lot of money as well. And he told me on several occasions how much money he contributed or how many hours he spent working on some project.
The idea of humility goes against the concept of earning one’s salvation. People who may think that they can earn their salvation through good deeds are obviously going to want recognition for their deeds; basically they want the credit for their work. Humility means that you don’t want recognition. Obviously God is going to see the good deeds that you do even if no one else does but deeds done to earn one’s salvation wouldn’t be humble deeds.
You go to work every week and you expect a paycheck for the work you do. You do your job and you work hard. You don’t cause problems for other people and you don’t care who gets the credit because your pay is the same regardless. This is being a good worker. Being a good worker isn’t the same as being a humble one. A humble one is one who doesn’t expect anything in return for their work but does it anyway.
How does wisdom tie in with deeds and humility? There is man’s wisdom and there is God’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom encourages pride. If you work hard and go a good job, earthly wisdom says that you should make sure that you get proper credit for it. This could mean a promotion, a raise, verbal recognition, or just a pat on the back, but the idea is that you receive something in return for all of your good deeds.
Godly wisdom says just the opposite though. Humility says that we should do good deeds for the sake of doing good deeds and for no other reason. We can do the work we are called to do without seeking recognition. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to receive recognition for our work and it certainly feels good when someone recognizes the effort that we have put in, but this should not be our motivation for good deeds. Instead, good deeds are their own reward. They are to be done for God’s glory and the more the focus is on Him, the less it will be on us. And of course this is always for the better.